In A Director Prepares, Anne Bogart asserts that “you cannot create results. You can only create conditions in which something might happen.” The same philosophy, I believe, is true about teaching. Attempting to “create results” in a classroom, or force learning on students, seems like a fruitless exercise. My job as an educator is to create the conditions under which learning can happen. In order to accomplish this, I aim for four basic outcomes. By the end of their time with me, I hope students are able to:
Access and utilize a wide range of educational resources (or “thinking outside of Google”): As a person raised in the information age, it is easy to forget that a wealth of knowledge exists beyond the confines of commercial internet search engines. Helping students to understand the resources that are publicly available, both in online and “hard” form, is core to my lesson planning. In an acting class, for example, I would choose to demonstrate the Drama Book Shop’s monologue finder, rather than assign specific texts. Instead of relegating a history class to researching a particular historic production, I would prefer to present the choices available through a field trip to the Performing Arts Library at Lincoln Center. Students in a theory class may find more compelling articles on any given topic by searching EBSCO than I could ever find and assign on my own.
Take ownership of their education (or “you’re not in high school anymore”): The two questions I dread most from students are “how can I use this information in the real world?” and “is this going to be on the test?” It is imperative for students to take ownership of their education and learn the value of self-enrichment. By stimulating excitement in students about pursuing their own interests and curiosity, I hope they are more likely to engage in their own education. Every course I teach begins with the question “what are your goals?” (and “an easy A” is not a good enough answer). Through careful and conscious listening to what the students need to make the class an enriching experience, I try to adjust the curriculum appropriately. I will also program in several checkpoints throughout a semester for the students to self-evaluate their progress towards their goals, and to change them if necessary.
Be individually responsible for group success (or “making homework matter”): It is very easy for students who have not completed a weekly reading assignment to hide in the anonymity of a lecture or “group discussion,” but when they are aware that they are going to be accountable to each other, the motivation to do the work intensifies. Instead of trying to “teach” my interpretation of a reading, I will divide students into groups and ask them to present their thoughts to the rest of the class. For example, I might assign a play to be read in tandem with an excerpt from William Ball’s A Sense of Direction, which asserts that all plays succeed or fail on five different levels (plot, character, theme, language, and spectacle). I might then divide the class into five teams and ask each to argue that one of the elements was predominant in the piece they read. We might then vote on whose argument is the most compelling, and let discussion evolve from there.
Collaborate effectively with peers (or “why it’s not all about me”): Collaboration is particularly vital when teaching theatre, due to the ensemble nature of the form. I am a firm believer that competition in a classroom only fosters fear, which ultimately restricts learning. When students feel comfortable and among equals, they are less inhibited, more open to new ideas, and more engaged in their own education. In a directing class, for example, instead of asking students to critique each other’s pre-production concepts, I might ask members of the class to play the role of a designer or a producer who will be obliged to ask difficult questions. This allows for feedback to be voiced but in a safer and more playful manner. Theatre games and exercises also help in creating such an atmosphere.
Most of what shapes my teaching philosophy is a core belief that my students are my peers. I know they have much to teach me. For example, I was recently working on diaphragmatic breathing in an Introduction to Acting class when a student pointed out that she learned about the concept in a science class. Her professor had taught that newborn babies naturally breathe from their diaphragm, until they learn upper-lung breathing from watching adults who have been socially trained to “breathe incorrectly.” I was thrilled to learn this, and will integrate that knowledge into future curricula. I believe the idea was freely expressed in our classroom due to the environment fostered by the above principles.